Picks to click: Bears defense has eye on more takeaways
After getting 36 takeaways in 2018 under Vic Fangio, the Bears’ defense has just 53 takeaways the past three seasons. Safety Eddie Jackson can feel this defense regaining its bite in Matt Eberflus’ defense in 2022. “I can’t describe the feeling. I just know they’re coming,” he said.
Bears safety Eddie Jackson knows the random nature of takeaways as much as anyone.
He made an immediate, record-setting mark in the NFL his first two seasons with eight interceptions, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and five touchdowns — including returns of 76, 75 and 65 yards.
Since then, his magic touch has withered. In his last three seasons — often surrounded by playmakers such as Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Roquan Smith —Jackson had two interceptions, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one touchdown. Two pick-6s were nullified by questionable pass-interference penalties.
It comes and goes.
“I don’t know — it’s something about football,” Jackson said. “They always say, ‘When they come, they come in bunches.’ You just find yourself in a place with the ball, and you’ve just got to capitalize on those plays.”
The drop in big plays and takeaways has been difficult for Jackson — and has been an especially sore subject since he signed a five-year, $58.4 million contract extension in 2020 that made him the highest-paid safety in the NFL. But his eyes light up when asked about takeaways now. He’s that confident that coach Matt Eberflus will return the bite to a once-vaunted defense.
“I really don’t know what it is. I can’t describe the feeling. I just know they’re coming,” Jackson said. “I get happy about it all the time, talking about it.
“It’s just the way we work and the way we run and the position we get put in. It’s always up to the person to make the plays when the plays come to ’em. But the way we run to the ball, man . . . it’s like when you run to the ball, good things seem to happen — a fumble might pop out or a tipped overthrow or something like that.”
It remains to be seen if the Bears will live up to the “T” in Eberflus’ H.I.T.S. principle (Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways, Smart). But they definitely need the boost. They had 22 takeaways in 2017 and a league-best 36 (including 27 interceptions) as former coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense peaked in 2018. But since Fangio left to coach the Broncos, they have had 19, 18 and 16 turnovers the last three seasons — a total of 53 that ranks 28th in the NFL in that span. Their 28 interceptions rank 30th.
With Eberflus as their defensive coordinator, the Colts were consistently taking the ball away, with 26, 23, 25 and 33 takeaways in his four seasons. They had 15 interceptions each year in 2018, 2019 and 2020 and 19 last season. Their 107 total takeaways in that span ranked second in the NFL.
Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams have instilled the hustle ethic it takes to make it work with this defense.
“I used to tell myself, ‘I’m running to every ball.’ But you [don’t],” Jackson said. “Now it’s like we’re running to every ball. It’s just that feeling you get.”
Every defensive coach in America wants his team to get takeaways. But Eberflus, Williams and the coaching staffs they’ve been a part of have been better than most at instilling that mindset.
“We’re fanatical about it,” Williams said. “We don’t just put it up on the wall and say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna get turnovers.’ We work on it in practice. We work on it in individual [drills]. We work on it in group work [and] in our team situations.
“We practice intensely so that what usually happens in practice usually [happens] in the game. You expect that however you practice, that’s how you’ll play. I just feel good about us taking the ball away.”